Dinosaur Eats Money

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Jurassic World – the anticipated fourth film in the Jurassic Park series since Jurassic Park III 14 years ago – came out to an overwhelming performance at the box office, breaking summer blockbuster records and stealing away 1.7 billion dollars. Though it was undoubtedly going to be a huge success, nobody saw that shit coming. I don’t care how excited you were about dinosaurs, NOBODY saw this sort of success coming. As a result, not only is Jurassic World the highest-grossing movie of 2015 yet, it is also the third highest-grossing movie of all time (unadjusted for inflation).

We’re about hours away from the release of the one picture that could threaten to remove Jurassic World from its throne so I think it does to look back on it for now and see how, in spite of its box office performance, the movie itself happens to fare content-wise.

And the answer is… it’s ok.

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We’re far enough from its massive hyped-up release (though I was not part of that hype) that a lot of people have thrown Jurassic World back to the dogs and claimed that it’s a really obnoxious piece of crap and I think their arguments are not invalid, but I also kind of remember having something of a good time with the movie during my two hours in the theater. In any case, Jurassic World is itself better than The Lost World: Jurassic Park and Jurassic Park III, but clearing that line is not a real challenge. But out of the three sequels to Jurassic ParkJurassic World is the only one capable of functioning as fluffy useless popcorn film, the aim all four films had to begin with.

What’s probably my biggest gripe is how much of that function comes from director/co-writer Colin Trevorrow and co-writer Derek Connolly’s tapping into the nostalgia of the concept – namely hitting on the idea of “what if the park was actually opened for once just as John Hammond envisioned?”, one of the only points of interest in revisiting the Jurassic Park brand and… well, they did build it and all. The design of the park is sort of sleek and leafs are undoubtedly taken from the idea of Universal Studios, but I am a bit disappointed in how little the film feels like a day in the park. There’s an extremely brief montage dedicated to showing “look at all these things people can do with dinosaurs now” that even includes a very shaky moment where a child in the foreground of the frame awkwardly hugs a CGI baby brachiosaur in a very confusing physical manner. But I didn’t feel like a festive theme area was going on around these characters, I just felt like I watched a promotional reel asking me to go take a visit.

Which isn’t possible, not only because it’s fiction, but because Jurassic World is still a Jurassic Park movie and so shit’s gonna get destroyed by some convoluted and cliched blunders.

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Those blunders being based on how Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard), operations manager of Jurassic World, and owner of the park Simon Masrani (Irrfan Khan) plans on unveiling their new homegrown megahybrid dinosaur – the Indominous Rex – despite their animal trainer Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) suggesting it to be a bad idea. In the meantime, Dearing is making sure her nephews Zach and Gray (Nick Robinson and Ty Simpkins respectively) are being taken care of by her assistant Zara (Katie McGrath) and Owen is trying to dodge Vic Blart’s (Vincent D’Onofrio, and I know that is not the name of the character, but my friends and I could not help making Blart Blart comparisons) pitches on using Owen’s trained velociraptors as weapons for the military – perhaps the single most Crichton aspect of this film yet.

Somehow this pajama jam of arbitrary characters and storylines – alongside a returning Dr. Henry Wu (BD Wong) from the first Jurassic Park eager to continue experimenting on dinosaurs – leads to the intelligent Indominous breaking its way out of its confines and wreaking havoc over the park like how infamously done 22 years ago.

When you’re done laughing, I want to remind everybody that even the first Jurassic Park was not exactly a pinnacle of screenwriting. All of the franchise’s scripts have been lousy, but they’ve been able to lead into their central catastrophes in a pretty organic manner. Jurassic World doesn’t give itself that chance really, it’s just haphazardly stacking events on top of each other to lead to the Indominous’ escape and then the episodic attempts by our leads to stop its rampage on the park by different means, lifting many of these incidents from action movies so recognizable I’m surprised Amblin wasn’t sued for plaigairism (Predator and Mimic are in fact the strongest shades I recognize throughout Jurassic World, but if I have to list all the movies it mimics, I’m gonna be here a while). Many of which include moments like that free-roam orb ride and pterodactyl release that just absolutely causes me to call bullshit on character decisions.

Like I’m obviously open to people in movies making bad decisions, but this movie didn’t have much on the human level to sell those decisions beside as flimsy foundation for the central premise. This movie performs a feat I honestly thought impossible by making the usually charismatic Pratt feel more like a placeholder action hero. I only think one can appoint him the protagonist of the film by mere screentime and even his post-2014 recognizability doesn’t make him standout amongst the rest of the flat characters who are manipulated by the screenplay simply to do things to keep the movie going and then stand in the background with no inner life whatsoever. Masrani is perhaps the closest thing one could call a dynamic character an account of how many different directions the script throws him – one moment he cares about the park attendees’ safety, the next “protect the assets”, another moment he decides “I can pilot a helicopter for what is an extremely imperative mission”. We can’t seriously buy these people acting the way they do.

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But hey, that’s a lot of retrospective ripping onto a movie that I actually liked. Like, I said, the point of Jurassic World was always to just be a really fun and big popcorn spectacle and THAT’s really where it succeeds with itself. Sure, I was just complaining about its setpieces of tension being blatantly derivative but that never removes the grandeur of moments like the climactic battle between the Indominous and a particular dinosaur we were damn well willing to see again, or how we were totally sold on Chris Pratt riding a motorcycle alongside his rap group, or how I 100% love the Mosasaur and think it’s the greatest thing the movie has up its sleeve. Even if it’s used for one of the more morally ugly moments where the movie stops its harmless destruction scenes (with even an intercut of Jimmy Buffett himself double-fisting margaritas while running away from pterodactyls. I’m not bullshitting, the brother has his priorities in order) to give an otherwise boring character a shockingly cruel death, the mosasaur’s maybe the most accurate yardstick for the movie’s attempted scale – not stealing screentime, but popping every once in a while to go “hey, this is a big damn movie”.

Of course, the movie’s attempt to match the mosasaur just leads to the climax becoming a bit more sprawling and elements stacked on top of each other over and over, but hey, there was no way the movie was coming out of this clean and the fact that it wants to give you a ride (even if it’s not exactly the ride you expect) is enough to have made me left the theater with pretty much a smile on my face. It’s definitely not going into any canons of mine, but I can’t exactly look back and say “the movie is a pile of crap”. Trevorrow is clearly just trying to make the movie function enough to be worthy of the idea of “Summer Blockbuster with FUCKING dinosaurs”, even at the risk of its ambition leading to disaster. And if there’s one thing I admire, it’s ambition even above imagination.

The ambition seems to have been enough to keep people coming enough to overwhelm the movie’s release, more than expected even with its brand recognition. In just a few hours now, with Star Wars: The Force Awakens, we’ll just about see how it fares in the box office with its own name recognition. And hey, franchises created by Steven Spielberg and George Lucas, the New Hollywood guys accused of killing New Hollywood. And hey, Trevorrow is even directing Episode IX! How you like that?

Because I’m just… ok with it.

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